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Convention May: Dear Heart (1964)

It is May, convention month, time to anticipate our pending event. This month we watch movies featuring conventions.

SAMANTHA GLASSER: It is time for the Postmasters Convention in New York. Evie Johnson (Geraldine Page) of Avalon, Ohio is a thoughtful, quirky woman who lives a pretend life at the convention, sending herself messages, paging herself in the lobby, and soaking up the sights no matter how insignificant, including a sliver of a view of the river from her 7th floor hotel room. She is well-loved by her co-workers, pursued by several men for casual dalliances but never long-term relationships, and courted by the prude old biddies (Ruth McDevitt, Alice Pearce, Mary Wickes) who want to claim her as one of them. She isn't ready to commit.

Meanwhile traveling salesman Harry Mork (Glenn Ford) is in town so he can settle into a promotion at work which will ground him for the first time in his adult life. He intends to marry his fiancée, get an apartment and bond with his teenaged stepson, but nothing is fitting the fantasy future he imagined for himself.

RODNEY BOWCOCK: This sets up what is sort of a meet-cute, but not in the way that we’ve become used to them. The main characters are so awkward and unsure of themselves, that we immediately feel sympathy for them. Seeing these two people attempting to navigate an unsure world at middle-age is something that seems oddly relatable to me, in spite of my stable relationship, aging has for some reason been at the forefront of my thoughts and memories of late, so I may be reading into the movie and the motives of the characters, but I don’t think so.

SG: This film is full of big personalities, a colorful cast that shines in an excellent script by Tad Mosel, who hailed from Steubenville, Ohio. Page is a revelation, vivacious and vulnerable, never wasting a moment of her screen time. In spite of her vibrance and constant smiling, she oozes sadness, loneliness and uncertainty. Ford is a nice counterpoint, a strong somewhat silent type that she draws out gradually over the course of the movie. Michael Anderson Jr.'s energetic performance as the stepson provides comedy without bruising the reality of the film. Barbara Nichols is great as the squeaky-voiced blonde working at the magazine counter, playing along with the flirtations of the customers but always aware of their games. Angela Lansbury sweeps into the film so late that I forgot she was going to be in the movie, but she immediately takes command and provides the catalyst for the ending.

RB: Anderson and his friend, Emile Zola Bernkrant, portrayed by Joanna Crawford, but honestly spoken of more than seen, play a juxtaposition between young and middle-aged people, which, frankly, I’m starting to experience more and more as I age comfortably into my 40’s. The film is intertwined with these attempts to be hip and modern by mid-60’s standards, but also contains a good amount of holdover from the golden age of Hollywood. You mentioned Mary Wickes earlier, probably the only person who could’ve claimed to have been in movies with The Andrews Sisters and Whoopi Goldberg. Billy Benedict of The Adventures of Captain Marvel and some Bowery Boys movies has a couple of scenes in an uncredited role. This pre-Easy Rider era of 60’s films is interesting to me. Times were changing, but they didn’t quite know how to handle it. One foot each in two different eras.

SG: I loved the costuming in this movie. The contrast between Page's approachable, soft, layered clothes are stark against Lansbury's chic, dark, expensive dress and fur. I especially admired Page's swing coat with the bow across the stomach, and it astonished me to read that when filming was complete, she was six months pregnant. I guess those coats were pretty roomy!

RB: I, frankly, had no idea. I love the look of movies in this era. In just a couple of years, we’d shed most of the beautiful mid-century tones as popular culture became hippified for lack of a better word. Blech. Hippies.

SG: I felt that way watching Mad Men transition from the classy styles of the early 60s into the wild patterns and disheveled hair of the early 70s. I can appreciate a broader and more accepting worldview but it was at the complete expense of fashion.

Although the overall sentiment of the movie is wistful and develops slowly, there are good moments of comedy. In a scene in a crowded restaurant, Evie scoots the table closer to her to give Harry room, but then asks the man seated behind her to scoot to accommodate the space, we see an entire row of people uncomfortably scooting down the line. When Harry's long explanation about his "wife" (Nichols) and her train trip is revealed to be entirely phony when the desk clerk recognizes his date, it grabs a laugh, but then when Lansbury arrives and the made-up story comes true, it's a cherry on top.

RB: These brief moments of humor and levity are, in many ways, the secret of what makes this such a successful movie. They’re sorely needed to add character to the leads and those who surround them. Without these funny little scenes to break up the sad lives that we are exposed to, it would be difficult to take the movie.

SG: Martin Manulis produced this movie. He was the husband of Katharine Bard who played Claudia on the radio, one of my favorite relationship dramas.

I caught this movie a few years ago on TCM not knowing anything about it, and I was delighted by it, so I wanted to revisit it for our convention month to see if it holds up. It does, and in fact played better the second time because I noticed more of the layers. I would give it four stars for Page's performance alone, but everyone is fantastic in this movie and the script is paced perfectly and written beautifully, so I award this brilliant and heartfelt film five stars.

RB: You aren’t the only person who stumbled across this film at one time or another. Matthew Weiner credits the film with providing the motivation for him to write the pilot for Mad Men. Bosley Crowther, however, felt the film was nothing more than a story of an “old-maid postmaster” and a “colorless clod.” Crowther, as often as not, was wrong here. There is a depth and sense of melancholy to the film that stuck with me for a day or more after seeing the film. It’s a powerful experience. Five stars.

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